I often get asked the question with regards to my nationality. In the USA Americans want to know the difference between Americans and Swedes, in Sweden it’s the reverse. I generally don’t try to answer these types of questions as there is no one answer that fits all perfectly. That one answer that can describe the two nations with absolute certainty. That is one of the main things I have learned in my life, living in different cultures and nations: Black and white answers rarely exist, and when they do, it’s usually debatable.
Since this is a generalized question usually made by people wanting to test their own programmed stereotypes, I will do my best to give a generalized, stereotype based answer. The truth is, what I find to be the one main difference between Americans and not just Swedes but most other people I have met is that Americans have a tendency and need to sound and present themselves as experts on any given field. I have tested this general hypothesis on many subjects from the USA and very rarely do I find the one person who doesn’t have that need.
This need and my “studies” (I ask random questions that I may or may not know the answer to just to see what I get for answers) have shown that no matter what I ask, I will get an answer (that could be purely speculation, or is pure bullshit to put plainly) and it will be presented as if it is the truth of the world. Please do not see this as an insult, as it’s actually a very fun test to do and I encourage anybody to give it a try – Simply find an American (myself included) and pick five random questions and see what you get for answers and how they are presented. With this I find that Americans in general can’t, won’t and don’t see the difference between opinion, values, belief and fact.
I find this move towards treating belief, values and opinion as fact something that is becoming a stronger and stronger trend among Americans. I believe this has to do with how the media portrays itself and the move towards opinion based news instead of fact based news. Researching an idea from different standpoints simply does not exist, instead as with the news media, the people in general have become rather docile with regards to facts and research and take an authoritatively presented message as being fact. The ability to research, analyze and present data in a neutral fact based manner is simply not respected or for that matter trusted. The trend towards the need to explain everything in “conspiracy”, or the “truth is out there” manner is overwhelming. And in general, history is remembered in 4 to 8 year intervals depending on who the president is. That is how prevalent the media propaganda is in the USA.
Now the difference in this is that Swedes are often quite the opposite. Swedes even if they sit on a Nobel prize in a given subject manner would rather be quiet, sit and listen and if needed they will present their answers as being “beliefs”. It is not unusual to here Swedes answer questions by saying “I believe… “ This can of course be extremely frustrating for someone like myself, who, is an American first. It does not matter what I ask or who I ask, I will almost always get an answer that is presented as mere speculation, and yet it could be an extremely well thought out and researched subject for the presenter. It comes across as extremely insecure and uncertain. My usual response is “do you know or don’t you? Give me an answer!” – I often call this the “mushy spine syndrome”
On top of this I find Swedes to be very reluctant to debate anything other than opinions – and even those with a well thought out plan of attack, can and will change. Swedes simply do not have a tendency to “marry” themselves to their beliefs and opinions. Facts certainly cannot be debated, as they are merely “facts” – this is a major difference with Americans as they have a tendency to not be able to separate facts from as I said earlier beliefs, opinions and values. It is in other words much more enjoyable to debate and argue with my American compatriots.
With this however, I usually find debating with swedes to be a more “fulfilling” experience, as they usually have a deeper understanding of the subject manner they are willing to debate – an understanding usually based on some form of actual research which leads to me filling fulfilled, as it’s not unusual for me to learn something in these debates. With Americans I usually already know what the counter arguments are going to be: I also watch the news, read the internet memes and follow all the usual propaganda sites left and right on facebook. I also know that it’s generally wasted air to debate with my American compatriots, as they tend to marry themselves to their ideals and beliefs.
It is also a fundamental belief that Sweden is a closed society. That Swedes are impossible to get close to, and the comparison is often made that Americans are like peaches and Swedes are Coconuts. Meaning that Americans are easy to get to know and learn, but once you get past the outer mush, it’s nearly impossible to get past the hard inner shell and get close. Swedes on the other hand are like a coconut where the shell is damn hard to break, but once you’re in, you’re in. I find this to be a fairly good comparison. I have many Swedish friends and I find the one thing that makes getting to know a Swede well is to show an interest in what they do and enjoy. Don’t try to control the flow, just be part of it. Americans have a tendency to want and need to be the most interesting people in the room – this is rather off putting for many Swedes. So if you want to get to know a Swede, leave your ego and married beliefs on the shelf.
I also find Swedes to have an ingrown belief that Americans are uneducated. An example that is often used is that many Americans don’t even know their own states and cities. You can ask a random American where Oklahoma is on a map, and the probability is rather high that he will not know. Of course Americans don’t really help this stereotype when they don’t know the difference between Sweden (girls in bikinis) and Switzerland (bankers robbing the world, or swiss knifes). However, I usually counter Swedes by asking them were Georgia is (the Georgia based in Europe, not the one in the USA). The fact is that 50 states is a hell of lot to remember and quite honestly not too many Americans have the time or inclination to learn all the states and cities. Just as not too many Swedes have the time or inclination to learn all the countries and capitals in Europe, or just the EU for that manner. With that said, because of the free university system and some of the best schooling in the world, Swedes do on average, have a higher education and if nothing else; university or college studies, will teach one how to think, process and analyze.
Another aspect I find interesting is the idea that Americans can and will use the terminology “your not American” or “not being patriotic” as a form of insult, a way to control an action or to stop a debate. This of course has always been a common insult of any fascist regime or authoritative government, but in a free and open society, most people would laugh at such terminology. In Sweden or just about any other nation in the world, if you say “your unpatriotic to Sweden” – it would be met with pure laughter. It is simply not something you say as the idea behind it is, in essence, purely retarded. Why? because in an open and free society who I am to dictate what is or is not an appropriate way to live, worship, have sex and so on.
Following this same line of thought is the often used propaganda “support our troops”. This of course is a purely manipulative way of using language inorder to control people into thinking a certain way. Of course we support our troops, just as we support all police officers, but what this use of propagandas sole purpose is to divert attention away from the idea “do you support the reasons behind the war”. These are of course two completely different ideas and two completely different subjects altogether, with the latter question being the most important. But, often this question is hidden behind the use of the words “do you support our troops”. In Sweden the discussion is never about “do you support the troops” – of course we do, they are our own brothers, sisters, sons and daughters. The question always resides around the support of the reasons behind the war.
Now with all this said, it may seem a mix between negative and positive, which it is. I will say this about Americans abroad: They are often the most lovely and respecting people I have ever met. Always polite, always curious. There are very few cultures in the world with the same kind of “etiquette” as Americans have while travelling and most nations of the world love their American tourists because of this. This cannot be said for a lot of cultures. Swedes for example are generally spotted by their yellow and white football jerseys and crocs. Usually hiding out with their own, and unless drunk, rarely converse with other people from outside their own clan.
Please keep in mind that these are my observations from living in Sweden now for the last 15 years. I have the luxury of being able to see things from the outside in, and in many ways to be an active participant on the inside as well. I do not intend to insult anyone, I am simply writing in a very generalized manner of a generalized question.